The former head coach of the Washington Spirit was fired by the National Women’s Soccer League following an investigation into allegations of harassment and a toxic work culture. Other team representatives were also suspended from roles within the league.
“After considering the substance of the report, and taking into account prior actions of the Spirit, the NWSL’s board of governors has determined that the Spirit and its ownership have failed to act in the best interests of the League,” the NWSL said in its statement Tuesday.
The termination of former head coach Richie Burke follows weeks of reports by The Washington Post that alleged he was responsible for creating a toxic work culture for female employees.
The NWSL doesn’t mention Burke by name in its statement, but rather says the “Washington Spirit’s head coach has been terminated for cause.”
The league opened an investigation into Burke and the team, which is based in the Washington, D.C. area, following an August report by The Washington Post. That report highlighted how Burke crafted a toxic and abusive environment in the team that drove players to leave in the middle of the season.
The NWSL hired an independent third party to investigate the allegations. Following the findings that Burke harassed and verbally abused his players and violated the league’s anti-harassment policy, the organization determined that he “cannot work with any NWSL players.”
Former Spirit players told reporters they left the team because they couldn’t stand Burke’s “abusive” treatment.
Washington Spirit player Kaiya McCullough said in August that anything could set Burke off. His anger and screaming fits often led to him unleashing “a torrent of threats, criticism and personal insults on McCullough and her teammates,” she said.
Off the field, Burke also made racially insensitive jokes and comments that made McCullough, who is Black, uncomfortable.
After these allegations started to emerge, Burke announced he was stepping down this summer citing health reasons. The Washington Spirit team said Burke would be placed in the front office.
But issues within the team were bigger than Burke, according to follow up reports by The Washington Post.
While the Spirit would tout the empowerment of women and girls in sports, the team under Spirit owner and CEO Steve Baldwin maintained a culture that left women feeling sidelined or demeaned. Current and former employees told reporters that the team felt like an “old boys’ club” and “misogynistic.”
Burke and the Washington Spirit have not publicly commented.
Baldwin had previously called reporting on these issues inaccurate, but hasn’t commented on specific allegations.